Destiny Wears Spurs
“A 2008 Amazon Breakout Novel Contest Semi-Finalist!”
Monica Hammond—NY ad exec at Hammond's Advertising Agency—will do anything to save her father's company from her ex-fiancé, but she never imagines that will involve working beside cowboys on a Colorado dude ranch and coming up with a winning slogan. While Cody Rafferty—owner of Rafferty's Remote Ranch—only agrees to need a phony ad campaign because he owes her father a favor. Falling for each other isn't part of the plan, but sometimes destiny has a mind of its own.
Release date: March 14, 2021
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 234
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Destiny Wears Spurs
Kari Lee Harmon
“What am I, a disaster magnet?” Monica Hammond asked herself, stumbling down the uneven walkway from her cabin toward the main lodge. The scent of pine hung heavy on the evening air. Pausing to rest her sore feet, she glanced up and her lips parted. The Colorado moon and stars shone brighter than any New York sky she’d ever seen, making her long for her sketchpad. But she wasn’t here to sketch the breathtaking scenery.
She was on a mission.
A mission to save her father’s company, even if the stubborn man didn’t believe Hammond’s Advertising Agency was in danger.
She focused on the gravel path and continued to wobble in torturous shoes that had to be made by a man. Probably the same man who’d lost her luggage. “I mean, how hard is it to load someone’s bag onto a plane? Check the tag, and then put it in the compartment. Simple, right?” She tripped over a tree root popping up out of the ground but regained her balance.
“Apparently not.” Cursing, she rubbed her ankle and then resumed teetering along, heels sinking into the gravel. Oh, what she wouldn’t do to be back in New York, dressed in normal clothes. And what a day it had been.
The most important business trip of her life, and then a would-be multi-tasker had attempted to sip coffee and snag his suitcase off the conveyor belt as she stood nearby. Not a great combination. Her favorite Italian silk pantsuit had paid the ultimate price.
Death by espresso.
As the other passengers grabbed their bags, she realized hers was MIA. She’d packed a carry-on, but not another suit. Not that she’d need a suit to work on this cattle ranch, but she’d wanted to wear one when she met her new potential client, Rafferty. Okay, her first client, providing her ad campaign proposal won him over and he decided to use their agency, but who was counting?
She came to a stop outside the rustic lodge, feeling completely out of her element, and the dreaded doubts crept in. Could she pull off this campaign? She made a quick adjustment to try to relieve the wedgie she had, and this time she wasn’t referring to her shoes. Tight clothes, heavy makeup, and big hair were not her idea of fashion, but they were perfect to win the Triple R’s “Most Outrageous Costume” contest.
At first, she’d been leery when her father’s golden boy protégé, Wendell, had mentioned the contest. He’d wished her luck, indicating he wanted to put aside the hard feelings between them. Like that would ever happen after what he’d done. She’d never trust him again. So she’d stopped at a local shop, and the woman behind the counter had confirmed there was indeed a contest and pointed Monica toward a pair of electric-blue stretch Capris, a lime-green crop top, and the devil shoes.
Monica had bought it all. She’d never dream of passing up an opportunity to show ole Golden Boy what she was capable of. Then she’d picked up some Final Net, a teasing comb, and viola, 80’s hair.
Okay, back to the present. Her dad needed her. She paced, practicing her deep breathing as she tried to form a game plan. Her father said Rafferty liked team players, people who weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and work with him. And the file she had on the man said he wanted someone who could devise a fun and creative ad campaign. Something unique that would make his ranch stand out. Well, she could do unique. She glanced down at her shoes. Somehow, unique wasn’t quite descriptive enough.
She could do this job. She had to. “I’m a team player,” she said, fiddling with her new pressed-on fingernails and gathering the courage to march through those doors with her head held high. Taking a deep breath, she stepped forward, but a screen door banged shut, echoing through the quiet night.
She glanced to the side and did a double-take. “Holy cowboy, what do they put in the water out here?” she whispered. The porch light illuminated a big hunk of a man in a wide-brimmed hat, standing on the steps of a large white farmhouse. Talk about breathtaking. He pulled on his boots. His faded jeans molded to strong thighs, revealing the play of muscles beneath. And those arms. Only hard work gave a man arms like those, all corded and defined, popping out of a tight T-shirt.
Lord, her temperature rose. Her fingers reached for her high-buttoned collar but grazed bare skin instead. She blinked, remembering where she stood and what she wore. She needed to disappear before he saw her looking like a reject from the circus, but she couldn’t help staring as the tall, broad-shouldered, long-legged fantasy jogged down the steps.
When did they start making men who looked like that? She’d certainly never seen any in the city. He had no trouble whatsoever strolling along the so-called path with long, yummy strides, right....
Good Lord, right for her.
She couldn’t exactly hide now, but hopefully he hadn’t seen her gawking at him. Standing there with her mouth hanging open wasn’t any better. She had to say something. Anything.
“Hello.” She stepped forward. Great. The spike to one of her blasted toothpick shoes broke off, and she lost her balance. She landed hard on her backside. “Oh, sh--oof.” Her breath whooshed out of her lungs. “Oh, yeah, a disaster magnet, all right,” she muttered.
The big cowboy took a quick step forward and then leaned down to help her up. His gaze ran over her from head to toe, producing the strangest look on his face. “Gotta watch these gravel paths in heels like those, ma’am.”
The deep timbre of his voice struck a chord that vibrated in her midsection like a bass guitar. “You’re telling me,” she squeaked. The strong, confident businesswoman facade had disappeared along with her luggage, probably on the next flight to Tahiti. What she wouldn’t give to be there right now.
He took her hand and she stared, mesmerized. Hers looked small and pale, held firmly in his large, rough, copper-colored one. She swallowed hard. He tugged gently. The motion jarred her out of her daze, and she snapped her gaze up, staring at him with a sheepish grin. She let go, feeling like a complete imbecile. Must be the stupid clothes rubbing off on her brain.
“You’re, ah, mighty ... colorful ... this evening.” His gaze skimmed her body again, but somehow it didn’t feel like he was checking her out.
“Thanks.” At least she’d done one thing right. “I think I’ve got ‘outrageous’ hands down.”
“Uh, yeah, you could say that.”
“Good, then there won’t be two of me. Because you never know with these parties. The key is to be unique.”
“Ma’am, I don’t think I could find two of you in a hundred miles.” He took a closer look and shook his head. “Make that five hundred miles.”
“Perfect.” This outfit should make her a shoo-in for that contest. “So, are you going to the party?” Standing cockeyed, she rested a hand on her hip and tried to appear less idiotic. His slight smirk told her she hadn’t quite pulled it off. Well, at least she’d put more effort into her costume than he had. He looked like The Marlboro Man. A good look for him, but he didn’t stand a chance of winning. Poor guy.
“Nah. Don’t care much for parties. Besides, I’ve got too much work to do.”
“Work? At this time of night?”
He looked her over and said in that deep, shiver-inducing voice, “It’s called hard work, ma’am. We don’t quit at five around here.”
“What a pity.” She caressed him with her gaze, her eyes focusing on his bulging biceps. He cleared his throat, and she looked up, catching his thick, black arched brow. Pressing her lips together, she thought, Where is the flipping duct tape when I need it? Time to go to the party, do her job, and forget this guy before she made an even bigger fool of herself. She told her feet to move. Her toothpick didn’t budge.
A breeze ruffled the black hair hanging below his cowboy hat. She’d never liked long hair on a man, but on him--yum. His face appeared as hard as granite, but curiosity sparkled in his smoky gray eyes. He stared at her for an endless moment, as if he didn’t have a clue what to make of her, then his lips tilted up at the corners.
Her gaze zoomed in and lingered on those wide, bowed lips. Big mistake. Heat ignited in her stomach then coiled through her limbs, setting her nerve endings ablaze.
Studly, on the other hand, looked cool as a mountain breeze.
She felt the blood flood her face and settle in her ears. He clamped his lips tight as though he were fighting off a smile. Apparently, amusement was all she’d ignited in him. If he laughed at her, she’d die of embarrassment. Voices rang out on the path, saving her the trouble. She glanced up at him, and he stared at her with that annoying arched brow, probably waiting to see what she’d do next.
She took a step back. “Whoops.” With her uneven heels, she tripped and lost her balance once again. This was the reason most sane women didn’t wear stilettos.
The big guy reached out and caught her as two cowboys rounded the corner. They nodded but kept walking until they stood in front of the lodge, deep in conversation. “You all right?” he asked, but didn’t let her go.
“Yeah.” His shoulders felt huge beneath her fingers, his muscles tight as he held her. An earthy scent caressed her, and she stared into his eyes until she felt like drowning, then she blinked. “I-I’m fine.”
“You sure?” He frowned.
She was sure she’d never felt that good in anyone’s arms, but said, “I’m sure I feel like an idiot. But thanks.”
“No problem.” He set her down.
The strongest urge to capture his chiseled features and square jaw on paper swept over her. She lifted her fingers to touch his face but caught herself and clasped her hands in front of her.
His brows made a deep V. “Enjoy the party, ma’am.”
“Like I said, I have work to do.”
He tipped his hat and set off at a no-nonsense pace, stirring up dust.
Monica blew out a breath. This evening had disaster written all over it. Something told her to cut her losses and call it a night, but she still had a job to do. A distraction of that kind wouldn’t have been a good idea, anyway. Not with the way he’d reduced her to a blubbering idiot within seconds.
She glanced at her watch. No time to go back and change her shoes, not that she had anything that would go with this outfit. Squaring her shoulders, she hobbled off to the party, and the strong, confident businesswoman image slid firmly back in place. Yet as she passed by the two other cowboys, she couldn’t help peeking over her shoulder and sighing once again.
The big cowboy continued down the path, and she watched shamelessly until the broadest shoulders and nicest butt she’d ever seen slipped out of sight. “Nope, I definitely don’t need that distraction.”
“Don’t look so blue, missy.” The older of the two newcomers approached her. “That boy’s cold shoulder ain’t got nothin’ to do with you. The night’s young. There’s plenty more fellers inside.”
“Oh, I’m not worried,” she assured him, and she could do without any more “fellers” in her life. Her track record spoke volumes. “Thanks, anyway.”
“Okay, then.” He stared at her, his cheek twitching.
She must have something on her face. “Good.” She swiped.
“Well, all righty then.” He twitched.
“Great.” She swiped.
“It’s just ... here, let me.” He reached forward and picked something off her cheek. Holding it up in the twilight, he squinted. “Now, this kind of feller, even I wouldn’t give no never mind to. What kind of bug is this, anyway?”
“Bug?” She scrubbed her cheek, revolted.
“Don’t you worry, darlin’, we got the little critter,” the younger cowboy reassured her and then cocked his head to the side. “Are those legs or wings, ya reckon?”
She looked at what they studied so closely, and heat surged through her from her toes to her forehead. “Oh, yeah, that’s a nasty critter, feller, thingy, all right. It gives me the creeps just looking at it.”
The older cowboy tossed it down and squished it with his boot. “There. No more creepy crawly.”
“Great. See ya.” She fled to the party before her face burned off. It was worse than a bug.
It was her false eyelash.
Before she ducked inside the lodge of Rafferty’s Remote Ranch, Monica peeled off her other fake eyelash and stuffed it in her pocket. Then she slipped off her good shoe and whacked it several times on the step until the heel broke to match the other one. Bingo. Instant flats.
She slipped inside and a mixture of food, cologne, and sweat teased her nose. Scanning the room while her face cooled, she realized this “party” wasn’t anything like Wendell had described. Loud country music vibrated the rough-hewn wood beneath her feet, dozens of cowboys and cowgirls line-danced across the floor, and a handful of party goers bellied up to the bar. Even a few obvious dude ranch guests attempted to blend in. But absolutely, positively no one was dressed like her.
She’d made a huge mistake in believing Wendell. No surprise there. It had been a mistake to start dating him in the first place, let alone agreeing to marry him, especially after she’d discovered he was the one trying to destroy everything her father had worked so hard to achieve.
A rush of panic set in. Maybe she could slip out without anyone noticing. She turned toward the door.
“Lord a’ mighty, it’s Peg Bundy,” someone sputtered.
Peg Bundy from that television sitcom? Good Lord.
A hush fell over the room, and everyone stared. Her stomach knotted as her chance to escape slipped away. She straightened, lifting her head high, and strolled over to the bar like she owned the joint. Think giving Wendell what he deserves. Think saving my dad’s business, she told herself, Just think.
She walked by a group of cowboys and another one added, “Looks mighty fine to me. You need a tour guide, Peg, I’m your man. Here, let me give you my number.”
She winced. “Sorry, but I’m too busy for a tour.”
“Aw, you’re killing me. At least give me your name.”
“You already guessed it.” She glanced down at her ridiculous outfit and cringed. “Tonight, I am definitely Peg.” She turned her back, slid onto a stool, and then signaled the bartender. “I’ll have a martini, and make it a double.” Lord, she wanted to crawl under the bar and hide. When the bartender brought her glass, she lifted it and took a big gulp.
“Earl, leave the poor lady alone,” came a familiar voice from behind her.
Monica turned to stare at the shopkeeper. “I asked you if the Triple R was having a contest tonight, and you told me they were. I don’t see signs of any contest. Did Wendell put you up to this?”
“I don’t know any Wendell, but I do know the Triple R is holding their ‘Most Outrageous Contest’ tonight.”
“Then where are all the ‘outrageous’ people?”
The woman’s eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open. “Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
Reality set in, and Monica’s stomach churned. “Rafferty’s Remote Ranch isn’t the Triple R, is it?”
“Afraid not. Randy’s Rowdy Roadhouse is.”
“It’s okay.” Monica reached in her pocket and pulled out a roll of antacids. She was gonna kill Wendell for setting her up. “Just because the neighboring farm is called the Triple C, I shouldn’t have assumed Rafferty’s Remote Ranch is called the Triple R. Stupid mistake.” She shook her head and chewed the chalky tablets. “My stupid mistake.”
“I feel so bad.” The shopkeeper looked ready to cry.
Monica smiled and patted her hand. “No harm done. It doesn’t look like my client is here, anyway. Think I’ll call it a night.” She set her martini on the bar, unable to swallow another drop, then hopped off the stool and headed toward the entrance. Tomorrow would be soon enough to meet Cody Rafferty.
No way was she letting him see her as Peg Bundy.
“Good luck,” the shopkeeper hollered after her.
“Thanks,” Monica said and headed outside, closing the door behind her. Her knees buckled. She’d worked for her father for years but in the art department, never having to deal with the tough situations the ad execs did. She’d feel much better in a power suit, breathing confidence through every pore. The only thing this outfit breathed was humiliation.
She stared off in the distance and inhaled deep, filling her lungs with the crisp, clean, rejuvenating air of the Rocky Mountains silhouetted in the moonlight. Why couldn’t she do what made her happy, like sketching that scene? She closed her eyes. Because her father would lose everything. She had no proof Wendell was up to no good, and since she broke off their engagement, her father didn’t believe her. He thought she was bitter. She was bitter, all right, but he was all she had. No matter what, she couldn’t let Wendell destroy him.
* * *
Cody Rafferty stepped out of the tackroom into the barn, the smell of wood and hay thick in the air. He tried to keep his mind on his work, glancing at the clock. Midnight. He should be in bed, but after the run-in with that glittering peacock earlier, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t say he found the woman attractive, dressed like that, but for some reason he couldn’t forget the picture she made.
He chuckled, thinking about how she stood with one heel stuck in the gravel, trying to look nonchalant about it but failing miserably. His life sorely lacked amusement these days. The damnedest thing was when he’d held her in his arms, he’d felt a spark. He hadn’t expected that, but something about her intrigued him. He smiled, thinking about the goofy things she’d said, but then plump lips flashed before his eyes, and he remembered how they had moved when she spoke.
He frowned, running a brush over his stallion’s black coat. He’d spent the past couple hours repairing broken harnesses and oiling saddles, trying to forget about her. But he couldn’t escape another thought chasing around in his brain. His new ranch hand started tomorrow. New ranch hand? He grunted. What a joke.
A yahoo city slicker had no business working on a ranch. The guy dreamed up slogans for a living, for crying out loud. Shoot, the tenderfoot probably didn’t know a horse’s head from its hindquarters, but Cody had no choice. After what Hammond had done for his father, Cody owed him a huge favor, he thought with a grimace. He just hadn’t expected the favor to involve some phony ad campaign. He hated being involved in deception.
“What kind of father names his kid Mo?” he asked his horse.
Babe tossed his head back, whinnied, and then huffed out a breath through his flapping lips that sounded remarkably like the raspberries.
Cody chuckled and gave the stallion a pat on his muzzle. “I couldn’t have said it better myself, partner. At least this guy’s only here for the summer.”
The horse twitched his ear with obvious displeasure.
Cody nodded. “I’m not looking forward to this any more than you are.” Giving the horse’s mane a final stroke, he headed into his office to tackle some paperwork. As he sat in the chair behind his desk, the springs squeaked. He picked up his pen, made a note to oil them, and then stared down at the long list of things needing fixing or replacing. He threw down his pen. The ranch was long overdue for a face-lift he could finally afford, but all that had to be put on hold so he would appear “needy.”
His eyes settled on a picture of his father, and he shook his head. He’d only agreed to this favor because of him. Because his old man wasn’t here to grant the favor himself, even if the favor was ridiculous. Hammond could easily fire this Wendell guy, only he’d never find out who the creep was working for. And Hammond said if Wendell thought his kid had a real shot at taking over the agency, then Wendell would show up to try to stop him, giving Hammond the freedom to snoop around.
Meanwhile, Cody was stuck baby-sitting.
Thrusting his fingers through his hair, he stretched his back and rolled his head, feeling a breeze. A movement caught his eye, and he turned to stare out his office door at the swing of white-painted wood. He’d left the barn door open. Since when had he become careless? He ground his teeth. Since he’d agreed to this hare-brained idea, that’s when. He crossed the barn with long, purposeful strides and kicked the door closed.
Bang. “Ow, ow, ow.” Thud.
“What the hell?” He yanked open the door.
A woman lay in the dirt, flat on her back with both hands clutching her nose, moaning something pitiful. A petite thing, she looked as fragile as a dewdrop on a blade of grass at dawn. She looked familiar, but he couldn’t imagine what she was doing in the barn in the middle of the night. His eyes widened. And in her unmentionables?
Peach satin and lace.
She moaned again, and his stomach twisted into knots. Christ, here he was lusting after her, when he should be feeling guilty for bashing her in the face. He glanced down at her soft breasts rising and falling beneath that flimsy excuse for a nightgown, and a usually well-behaved part of his anatomy rose to attention. He gave it a good lecture and reminded himself of all the problems the last woman had caused them.
Now was not the time to be finding a woman attractive, and he didn’t need some gal to fall at his feet, moaning, even if it did make for a nice image. She moaned louder, reminding him he had caused her pain. Still, she had no business being there in the first place. He knelt down, gently pulled her hands from her face, and sucked in a sharp breath.
Her. The strange woman he’d run into earlier. Only now the heavy make-up had been scrubbed off, and her hair lay in silky curls. No peacock in sight. And no serious injuries, thank God. He glanced at her mouth. Damn, she had about the most kissable lips he’d ever seen. Her skin looked smooth, with a dusting of freckles scattered across her small nose. Whipped cream lightly sprinkled with cinnamon came to mind.
He brushed a springy, flaming, reddish-brown curl off her cheek. Her skin felt petal-soft, he thought as he traced a finger over her nose. It was swelling. What had possessed her to come out here alone at this time of night? She obviously didn’t have much sense in that pretty head of hers. Then again, lack of horse sense was a foregone conclusion. That was why he left the dudes to his sister and partner, Cassie. He had yet to meet a city slicker who proved otherwise.
The woman’s eyelashes, lush and spiky without the ridiculous fakes plastered on, fluttered, then slowly opened. Double damn. She had the biggest, most amazing set of doe eyes he’d ever seen. Milk-chocolate brown with jewel-green flecks.
“You okay, lady?”
“Gotcha, Studly.” She winced and rubbed her head.
“Studly?” He arched a brow.
“You’re not getting away this time. I haven’t jumped your bones yet.”
“Jump my bones? Are you serious?” he croaked.
He cleared his throat. “Not that I wouldn’t mind taking you up on your offer, miss, but I don’t think you’re in any condition to--”
“You have a nice set of bones. Did anyone ever tell you that?” Her doe eyes went soft and dreamy.
“Uh, no. Can’t say that they have.”
She stared right at him, but it looked like she saw through him. Her pupils were evenly dilated, so no concussion. The little lady must have been sleepwalking. Until he’d knocked her unconscious like a jackass.
Now, she hovered somewhere between sleep and consciousness, by the sound of it. He tried not to chuckle, but a little one slipped free. She had no idea what she was saying.
“Let’s get you back to your cabin, okay?” He glanced at her nightgown again and swallowed. The flimsy lingerie danced around her curves, which weren’t hidden well in the see-through fabric. But after the outfit she’d had on earlier, nothing this lady wore would surprise him.
“Nat always said it would hit me right between the eyes when I least expected it.” The woman touched her nose and then grimaced. “I didn’t think she meant literally.”
“Is that so?” He scooped her carefully in his arms.
“I must be dreaming. The guys I date never look like you; not that I date much. I’m no good at it, you know.” She sighed as her eyelashes fluttered closed. “Gray eyes. They suit you.”
“Really, now.” She didn’t make any sense, but all he could think about was how good she felt in his arms and how sexy her breathy voice sounded. She turned him inside out, and that hadn’t happened in a long time. Too long. He had to get her out of here, fast.
“Yeehaw, cowboy, take me home. I feel like ridin’.” Her voice trailed off, and a soft snore escaped. Sound asleep, thank God.
He glanced down. Every delicious curve of her body lay pliant against him. The outline of firm breasts with dusky nipples strained against the sheer material of her nightgown. No doubt about it, he was a dead man. He could hardly walk.
Down, boy. His body ignored him, so he shifted her to a position with the least amount of contact and ascended the hill. “Little lady, you are nothing but trouble.” She’d wake with one hell of a headache in a matter of minutes, and he didn’t want to be caught saluting her when it happened.
Cody glanced up as he reached the dude cabins, but only one had a light on with the door ajar. Guessing it to be hers, he peeked in the window. Vacant. He slipped inside, shut the door, and laid the sleeping woman on the bed. She stirred, so he took his cue to leave, lifting her eyelids first to make sure she didn’t have a concussion. Relief washed over him.
“Yep, those big doe eyes still have equal-sized pupils. You’ll live, angel lady.” His mind said go. His boots stuck like glue.
He’d gone plumb crazy. He knew he could be intimidating, but even in her semi-conscious state, she’d been bold as brass. He liked that. He liked her. But after his mess of a marriage, he wasn’t about to get involved in another relationship anytime soon. Especially not with a petite city woman, who had birdlike bones and weighed less than his damn saddle.
“I’m not the one for you, sweetheart,” he whispered hoarsely, stroking her jaw, and regret swamped him. Jesus, he had gone crazy. He handled emotion the way he always did, by tossing it behind the wall where he hid his feelings. He couldn’t afford feelings any more than he could afford to play along with this ridiculous charade, but he didn’t have a choice where either was concerned.
“Studly?” she said, her eyes still closed. “I want Studly.”
“Shhh. Studly wants you too.” Boy did he ever, but it wasn’t gonna happen. “Go back to sleep. Studly had to leave.” Cody tucked the blankets around her and then forced himself to do just that. If he were smart, he’d never come back.
Problem was, he'd never been that smart.
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